Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

April 2014
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True Leadership is Forged in the Fire

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Many biblical leaders such as Joseph, Moses, David and Paul were built in the fire of suffering.

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Tim. 3:10-12)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Cor. 1:8-11; see also 4:7-12; 11:21-29; )

These are the ways of God: healthy leaders are built – and lead – in the fires of suffering.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”… (Matt. 20:20-22)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Jam. 1:2-4; cf. Ps. 119:71)

… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character… (Rom. 5:3-4)

As Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy:

These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.

Or, in the words of Helen Keller:

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Intentionally Introducing Pressure into Leader Development

Jesus used pressure to refine the character of His disciples. Mark 6 gives an example:

When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. (Mark 6:47-48)

Jesus allowed His disciples to struggle against the wind for nine hours – from “evening” (about 6 PM) to the “fourth watch” (about 3 AM)! He could have stopped the storm at any time, but He sat and watched them go through it.

Jesus used pressure to mold His disciples both actively (creating situations of pressure) and passively (taking advantage of circumstances). An effective leader development process will do the same.

While the learning community itself should be a relational haven of peace and blessing, at the same time it should not be exempted from the rigors of having to trust God for the practical necessities of life and ministry. For example, the builder should not bear all the financial responsibility for any learning community by himself, but should allow the emerging leaders to help him carry the load of trusting God for daily financial provision. Accordingly, the disciples stood with Jesus in faith for provision. He didn’t shelter them (e.g., Matt. 17:27; Mark 6:35-37).

In addition, we should not shield emerging leaders from unpleasant or difficult circumstances, such as:

Allowing them to go through hardship will teach emerging leaders many things, such as:

Naturally, we cannot expect to deal with every issue or problem in the emerging leader’s life during the training period. However, during this time the young leader will become better prepared to deal with his own struggles later on:


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